Since this is the time of year that we typically look ahead to the coming season, we’ll do just that at Blue Jays from Away and try to look into the crystal ball to see what we’re going to get for the 2020 Toronto Blue Jays, continuing with the Blue Jays’ biggest free agent acquisition, lefthanded starting pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu.
The 32-year-old Ryu (who will be 33 on the cusp of the 2020 season) was handed a four-year, $80-million deal with the Blue Jays as a free agent, just about a week ago. He spent six years with the Dodgers after coming over from Korea and was a dominant force in the National League in 2019, finishing the year with the best ERA in the league (2.32) and finished second in the Cy Young voting in the NL.
What makes Ryu difficult to project is the fact that he’s been quite injury prone in his six-year career. He made just one appearance in 2015 and 2016 thanks to shoulder and elbow surgeries and he missed almost three months in 2018 with a torn groin and foot and hip issues sidelined him for different lengths of time in 2017. In other words, despite small injuries in 2019, last season was the first since 2013, his rookie year, that he had what we consider a full workload.
So where do we start this projection? Well, there’s a lot to like about what Ryu did, particularly from a Statcast perspective. Ryu limited hitters to an average exit velocity of 85.3 mph while also having a strong launch angle of 6.0 degrees on average, meaning that he was giving up fewer hard hit balls and fewer fly balls than average, something that is going to come in handy in the American League East.
I’m going to start off by saying that Steamer, over at Fangraphs, has Ryu showing a big jump in home runs, from 0.84 HR/9 last year (and 0.98 HR/9 the year before) to 1.41 HR/9 in 2020. That’s pretty understandable as Ryu is going to one of the worst parks for home runs in MLB (Rogers Centre), with a couple of other home run havens in the division. Plus if the Yankees have both Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton in the lineup 19 times against the Blue Jays, Ryu is bound to face them three or four times. In a bit of a scary look, Steamer projects Ryu to have a 4.27 ERA and 4.25 FIP while producing 2.9 WAR for the Jays.
While projecting pitchers can be very risky because a lot does depend on their BABIP and the defense behind them, I have a feeling that Ryu can come in below those projections. He has consistently given teams excellent production when healthy. I think he’ll probably miss some time during the season but I will predict that he is able to induce weak contact with his solid fastball despite the fact that it’s below average in velocity.
Because his changeup is his best pitch, it generates a ton of groundballs and Brooks Baseball characterizes Ryu’s sinker as “a real worm killer that generates an extreme number of groundballs.”
Ryu is a mature pitcher who knows how to mix his pitches and can throw a sinker, a cutter, a change and a curve (with a slider) and he can take something off the curve to keep hitters off balance. Because most of his pitches have some kind of sinking action, he’ll be helped in a division like the AL East and I think he won’t see as big of a blip in his home runs as Steamer projections seem to think.
I think Ryu will finish with 175 innings, a 3.62 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and he’ll be worth 3.2 WAR (according to Fangraphs). Not a true ace but a real anchor to the Blue Jays’ rotation.
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